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Baak: The Qualities and Craft of Ancient Maya Bone

Baak: The Qualities and Craft of Ancient Maya Bone

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

5:30 PM–6:30 PM
The Clark
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Andrew K. Scherer, Brown University, Mellon Decade Fellow (Fall 2017)
“Baak: The Qualities and Craft of Ancient Maya Bone”
Originally presented on November 14, 2017

This illustrated lecture explores the materiality of human and animal bone among the Pre-Columbian Maya (c. 400 BCE to 1502 CE). The importance of bone as craft material is apparent not only in the wide range of objects made from bone, but also the broader discourse of bone in ancient text and image.

An Update from Andrew Scherer

My lecture at the Clark was based on the then-working title of my book, Baak: The Qualities and Craft of Ancient Maya Bone. The crux of the project was a study of the materiality of human and animal bone among the ancient Maya (c. 400 BC to AD 1502) of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras. My period at the Clark marked the initiation of this project and my time was divided between sorting the wheat from the chaff in regards to recent writing on materiality, ontology, and animism as well as compiling a massive database on objects and imagery relating to bone among the ancient Maya of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras. As is typical of research projects in their earliest stages, this one has both morphed and bifurcated. One fork has led to a forthcoming edited volume with the title Ancient Maya Community and Kingdom, Substance and Being, the latter half of the volume consisting of a series of essays that explore the interplay between materiality and the essence of things and beings (humans, animals, and the supernatural). My contribution, “The Death Within: Maya Perspectives on Bone” is a product of my time at Clark and the presentation was my first (rough) attempt at synthesizing those ideas. The other project fork marks the reconceptualization of the original project into a book with a now broadened scope and the working title Violence, Death, and the Order of Ancient Maya Society. This work-in-progress manuscript engages with understandings of the experience of death and violence among the ancient Maya. My work on Maya philosophies of bone at the Clark led me to realize that there was a larger, more compelling project at the core of the one that I originally proposed, one that examines how the inherent chaos of death and violence was navigated by the Maya, with imagery and objects of bone (especially skeletal beings) central to this work.


Next Up in the Archives

May 19: Stephanie Porras, “Maerten de Vos and the Renaissance in-between”
May 26: Mieke Bal, “Thinking in Film”
June 2: Jeehee Hong, “Framing Affect and Vision in Middle-Period China”



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